Shae O'Brien grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and it has bred her to have a love for music, coffee, the ocean, and rain. Her love for writing was planted at a young age, with the encouragement of beautiful family and inspiring teachers, and grew into a passion she cannot go a day without. During the day, Shae is also an English teacher, promoting the art of the written word among the youth of Austin. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Off The Wookie, AIPF Di-verse-city Anthology 2012, and TWENTY: Poems In Memoriam. She recently self-published her first chapbook, "Truths Unspoken", which takes the reader on a poetic journey through the passion, love, heartbreak, and rebirth of a relationship. You may find her on any given night writing or performing her work around Austin, TX.

Please note that all poems and/or parts are the property of Shae O'Brien and should not be shared without giving due credit.

Thank you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Wake-Up Call to White Privilege

I was brought up with an air of entitlement. My mother taught me my rights. She encouraged me to question authority. From a young age I held a belief hat I deserved something--an answer, a polite response, a respectful tone.

If I didn't receive these things, I was brought up to fight for them. If someone stepped on me, it was because I chose to lay down. If someone treated me with disrespect, it was because I hadn't been clear about what was acceptable treatment to me. I could easily fix these mistakes made by others by fighting back--not physically, but through my words and example. Because I deserved better, and it was my responsibility to let them know that.

Now, my mother taught me how to treat others with respect, how to show them the same character I expected in return. However, after some thought and consideration now, I realize that my treatment of others did not dictate or correlate to the treatment I expected to receive--the treatment I believed I deserved. I did so because I was a good kid, but it did not change what I had a right to receive.

I used to believe everyone was brought up this way. If they were not, I assumed it was by some fault of their parents. After all, everyone should demand respect, answers, and acceptable treatment. The only thing stopping you from receiving it is YOU.

I was wrong.

The death of Trayvon Martin was a wake-up call to me, as a white person. Without going into specifics about the case itself, I found myself shocked beyond belief when George Zimmerman was found not guilty. In my mind, Zimmerman had followed Trayvon after being told to stop by dispatchers. He overstepped his bounds without any authority. Trayvon had every right to walk in his own neighborhood without explanation and to confront the person who dared to suggest otherwise. If it had been me, I would have expected an easy conviction, expected recognition of my right to self-defense, and demand that he face consequences for his actions. In my death, I would have expected my loved ones and society to expect and fight for the same.

However, my eyes were opened by the many responses I read, heard, and saw regarding Trayvon. I found many people in the black community talking about how he should have known better, been raised smarter, had more common sense. Statements were made that he should have known better than to be black, walking, in the dark. That he should have run home or simply laid on the ground, arms out, shouting "I am not armed!"

I have seen many responses from other races, though mostly people of the white community, saying he brought it upon himself by not running. That he assaulted Zimmerman. That Zimmerman had every right to follow Trayvon. That Trayvon was the one who acted illegally and Zimmerman was the one acting in "self-defense". They even made statements about how he should have been smarter and called 911, that this just should be more evidence that he was suspicious and deserved to be followed,  and that his confrontation with Zimmerman proved he was planning on doing something wrong.

While I can understand considering better possible choices Trayvon could have made, I was appalled that so many people placed blame on Trayvon, even to the point of assigning  him with a crime! This especially came as a shock to me since I know some of these people well enough to know that if it had been me they would have been outraged on my behalf. 

So, what's the difference?

The difference is that my race has been the "master" since the foundation of this country. The air of entitlement began with the belief that our slaves were less than us, that we owned them, that we had rights to them and over them. We wrote it in our laws, professed it in our churches, and showed it through our everyday actions. My mother taught me that I deserved the best because no one has ever dared to tell us that we don't.

The black community has a very different history. A history where their rights were taken from them, their names, their homes, their identity and worth. A history where they were disrespected, degraded, abused, and even killed, all while being told they earned their consequences. They were taught by our words, our hands, and our authority that the only way to survive was to put their head down, their hands up, and speak a soft "Yes sir."

And has it really changed so much today?

I think society's response to Trayvon's death answers that pretty clearly.

You see, my entitlement is a privilege. I don't have to worry when I walk down the street that someone will look at me funny or suspect me of a crime. I can wear a hoodie without concern that someone is going to associate me with a "thug life". I can question and even argue with authority without fear that they will abuse their power--or if they do, I will fight back with the expectation that my rights will be defended.

I wish I knew an answer. I wish I could take back the hatred and the history and give back the lives and respect. I do not blame the black mother for teaching her son how not to die. I blame the white mother who teaches her son how to hate as she locks her car doors when a black person walks by. I blame the white society that continues to put black people in their place with questions like: They got their half-black president, what right do they have to call "racism" now?

Did we not ask them the same when offering them their 40 acres and an ass? Why should they be satisfied with so little when we white people are taught to demand so much?

The truth of where we are now hurts me and angers me. We have so much more to do, so much further to grow, but until we (the white community) can admit that racism still exists and thrives, we cannot begin the conversation of how to fix it. The truth that most white people don't want to admit is this:

My badge is the color of my skin.

Your sentence is the color of yours.

It's time to change. It's been time for far too long.


  1. Please, please send this to a newspaper. To several newspapers. To magazines, To radio and TV stations. To you local, state and national elected officials. To our "half-black" president and his family. The put it in a time capsule for All of them to read 100 years from now with a prayer
    we hope will by then be answered.

  2. Shae, this is IT! I've had a "public face" since age 5 when my parents sent me to an all white school and I was the only student of color there, You nailed it. I've always heard my white friends say the things you stated. Even after my experiences from k-12 were published in a book 'A Cup of Comfort For Friends.'.

    And to experience this attitude still is galling. from Trayvon to every day life. I've experienced a white women trying to turn a crowd in the Austin airport against me on the way home from AIPF simply because she got pissed because I was going to be served before her. I STOOD MY GROUND on that one...:-) I hope you do share this with a wider audience.